New Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes recently sat down for a wide-ranging interview with The Detroit News to discuss his first five months on the job, as well as his philosophies when it comes to scouting.
Part 1 of the interview published Tuesday. Part 2 is below. Questions are paraphrased, and some of the answers are edited for brevity and clarity.
► Question: Obviously, there is only so much you can change to the college scouting process in your first few months, but what kind of philosophical stamp are you putting on the department heading into the 2021 season?
► Answer: “Well, hopefully, first of all, keeping the main thing the main thing. A lot of people say, it’s just football, but often it can be lost a little bit with all the infusion of the analytics. And the analytics are important, I’ll get to that, but what I wanted to bring from a philosophy standpoint is invest not only in good football players, but invest in reliable players and invest in reliability.
“It’s like when you’re looking at what kind of stocks do you want put your money in and hold. You don’t want to put all your money into the volatile stocks. You want to have more reliability. That’s what I learned in L.A., and that’s why we were able to have so many guys, so many first-year players, play 500-plus snaps, because guys were reliable, they had good football intangibles and you just believed in the stock when you bring those players in.
“The other thing, as I’ve gotten more involved in the analytics approach, is that merging of quantitative data and the qualitative data. If you can fuse that perfectly, or about as close as you can equally, I think that can drive a lot of your decision-making. To bring that component, as well — I didn’t really know the people that had been here, how much they used that, how much they didn’t use that. A lot of stuff that we did (heading into the draft) was new, and I think that component is big. It’s using the analytic piece, but not forgetting about the football. You know what I mean?
“It still all goes back to the tape, and actually using scout intuition as an analytical piece of data. I think that’s been very, very useful, on top of the technology to streamline communication, make things more efficient. I think that’s been a huge piece of the process. I think those are the things I’m trying to bring to the personnel department. It’s boded well, the collaboration part I go back to, we had the coaching staff involved through the entire process. They were great.
“When you really study decision-making process and the psychology of decision-making, I don’t know how you can get to the right answer if you don’t have as much data as you can compile. We talk about predictive science, talk about the outside view vs. the inside view. You talk about the outside view and collecting all the data, as much as possible, and leaving your own intuition and gut out of it. Then, after you get all the opinions, all the data, that’s when you can go to the inside view and go, all right, my gut is kind of telling me, ‘OK, this is the way.’ I don’t know any other way to really do it. It’s worked so far. It was very successful in Los Angeles and hopefully we can have similar success here.”
► Q. In previous interviews, you’ve talked about the emphasis you put on intangibles. Beyond a passion for football, what are some other intangibles you’re trying to identify through the scouting process?
► A. “Oh, well it would be leadership — there are so many different types of ways to lead. It’s accountability, dependability. Oftentimes, the way you lead your life off the field will kind of run into how you’ll operate on a team, inside a building. Your teammates are relying on you. You have to be dependable.
“I was just telling someone a story about how I was trying to interview a prospect one time. We were talking about how we were going to approach the interview process and I said, ‘Well, I had to interview this prospect that was a highly touted prospect. I’m trying to text him, go through his agent, and he wouldn’t respond back and he wouldn’t follow up.’ So he showed up late, he didn’t know how to get there and you kind of saw the signs to come. OK, if we acquire this player, as many of the school sources are saying he’s a great kid, I’m seeing something different. He’s coming in and he’s not reliable and he’s struggling to be accountable. When the life skills aspect is not falling into place, we can’t be surprised.
“Some guys, their background might cause a little bit of those struggles. They might have good intentions, a good heart, all that stuff. We take them case-by-case. We don’t put them all in a vacuum, but those are some more intangibles.”
► Q. Are there any automatic disqualifiers that will keep you from adding a player to your roster?
► A. “Yeah, it’s always case-by-case. There’s things that you can see on the surface that you’re like, oh man, there’s no way.
“There’s a player that came out in this past draft, that on the surface, when we first started doing the work on him, I said, ‘No way. I’m not doing it.’ I will say as the months went on, the more research we compiled, he actually got resuscitated and revived. I said, ‘You know what? He’s actually going to be OK, it’s just a different world we’re living in and this is just a different generation of kid.’ He grew up in this background and made different decisions.
“I will say this, out of all the decisions that a player will make when they’re 18 or 19 years old, where I don’t think their frontal lobes are fully developed yet — I could tell you about some of the things that I did at that age, and I’m sure you could share the same, that I don’t think I’d be hired for this job if they knew some of the bonehead things I did in college. But, I will say this, what it comes back to, are they passionate for football and are they smart? If you have a level of intelligence where you can learn football, and you’re passionate about the game, it seems like that can always can kind of guide you back, regardless.
“There are obviously some non-negotiable, let’s say strikes that you can have from a penalty standpoint, but I don’t want to say one because then you’ll anchor me in terms of ‘Brad you said that and that’s non-negotiable.'”
► Q. OK, so you’re loading your roster with players passionate about football and trying to run practices heavy on competition, but so is the rest of the league. So what is the thing or things that can help separate a franchise from the pack?
► A. “Yeah, I believe the best way to answer that, and Dan and I have talked about it a lot, is being outside the box. But for a reason, and not falling into just because things are done a certain way doesn’t mean that they always have to be done that way. One of the things that I’ve really admired with Dan is his strategic, outside-the-box thinking. He’ll bring up something and he’ll say, ‘What if we don’t do this that way’ or ‘I know we normally do these (practice) periods this way, but what if we reversed it?’ And I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s a good idea. I never thought of it that way.’
“I kind of learned that from Les Snead. We did a lot of things from a process standpoint that were outside the box, but the more we talked about things, just because scouting is done this way, doesn’t mean we have to do it that way.
“That probably alludes back to the question you were asking, what would I be bringing to the scouting department, from a personnel standpoint is that, yeah, from a process standpoint, we were having a meeting today that probably was a shock to the system for the guys. I remember it was a shock to the system when I first heard it. But I said, ‘Just think about it. We’ll meet on it again tomorrow.’ I think those are the things that you have to be wiling to do, and you have to be willing to take, I don’t want to say calculated risks, but you can’t be afraid to do things no one else is doing if you really want to be great. I think Dan and I are taking that approach, and so far that’s working.
► Q. Can having fun be a separating factor, given there’s been an emphasis on injecting more fun into the organization this offseason?
► A. “I do think there’s an element that you want to be happy while doing what you’re doing. I don’t think you want to be miserable coming into work. And that goes back to passion of football. Even if you’re passionate about football, your passion can dwindle at some point if you’re miserable every day. I credit Dan. He’s definitely created an environment where everyone is having fun.
“Then, kind of from a personnel department standpoint, those are some of the things I want to try and make sure I put in place. Going back to just because things have been done this way, we don’t have to do them that way. Let’s be collaborative and give guys ownership, in terms of this is your task for us, how do you improve football systems? Then let’s have these meetings and process how to come up with better ways to do things and evolve our processes.
“I think it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing. Everyone says, ‘At least you enjoy what you’re doing because you’re in the NFL. It’s football. You’re passionate about football and football is fun.’ Football should be fun. That’s one of the things that I told (owner) Sheila (Ford Hamp) in my interview, ‘Look, let’s not have the scouts write book reports every night.’
“I asked the scouts in one of my first meetings, ‘Do y’all want to spend all nights typing reports or do you want to watch football and watch tape?’ They were like, ‘No, we’d prefer to watch tape, watch football.’ So I was like, ‘Well, let’s do that. That’s fun. So let’s make the reports a little more concise.’ This is the information I need. I don’t want to read the book report, so why would have you write the book report? I’ve had GMs that do want to read the book report, but those are some of the elements of making football fun; let’s make scouting fun, too.”
► Q. You mentioned analytics, and one of the comments that was eye-catching this offseason was running back Jermar Jefferson having the third-fastest GPS game speed for running backs, which ran counter to his 40-yard dash time. Who provides that information?
► A. “Yeah, you know, schools are utilizing GPS a lot more, especially the Power-5 schools. About three or four years ago, we started asking our scouts, when I was with the Rams, to start asking for the GPS data. Because it was kind of new, (schools) were kind of hesitant to give it out. Often schools are like, ‘No one has ever asked for that.’ I think it’s becoming a lot more liberal now, where they’re offering that information, where they’ll say this guy has hit this much on the GPS.
“There are companies that are providing speed analytics outside of GPS. With the Jermar Jefferson stat, that piece of analytic data that we use, that are actually a little more relatable to game speed, even further than GPS, that we’ve been pretty impressed with and we’ll continue to utilize.”
► Q. So you’re contracting with third parties for some of this data?
► A. “Yep. You know, it really hit, I want to say it was with Cooper Kupp.”
► Q. You’re talking about at the Senior Bowl the year he came out?
► A. “Yeah, I think he had the fastest GPS time at the Senior Bowl. And every time you watch Cooper Kupp, you love watching him play football. Again, it goes back to let’s utilize analytics, but let’s not forget about the football. I say it all the time, they’re football players. So every time you watch Cooper Kupp on film, you like him, good football player, but you see him at the Senior Bowl, man, this guy looks explosive, his routes are a different speed than the other guys. Then he goes to the combine and runs a 4.6 whatever, goes to his pro day and runs a 4.6 whatever. But it’s like, OK, when he was actually playing football he was actually playing faster than what that 40 time was. Different players have different reasons why they’re going to have those numbers.”
► Q. So you played defensive tackle in college (at North Carolina A&T)?
► A. “I did.”
► Q. What did you weigh at your max?
► A. “270 pounds.”
► Q. Whoa, so you were pretty undersized?
► A.” I was undersized, even as a MEAC, I-AA defensive tackle.”
► Q. What are you now? 230? Is this conversation getting weird?
► A. “I hope I am. I hope I’m around that. That’s what I usually am. Ever since I’ve been on this job, I’ve exercised the least that I have in the past decade. And I’m probably eating the worst that I have. (Senior personnel executive and former GM) John Dorsey said one time, ‘Brad,’ and I thought he was going to tell me all this roster building stuff and he goes, ‘Brad, don’t get fat.’ I said, ‘Don’t get fat?’ He said, ‘It happens, man. Don’t get fat.’
“Now I’m noticing myself not exercising nearly as much. I will say drinking out of the firehose, that hose is starting to get a little bit less now, so I feel like the exercise, and also my family being gone, them just getting up here last week, so life is slowly getting back in place.”
► Q. We take for granted how important our family is to recharging our batteries, don’t we?
► A. “I didn’t realize that not only having my family gone, but staying in the Henry Ford hotel. I think I broke the record for the most consecutive nights at the Henry. Those walls were closing in on me. So, now that we got temporarily set up, having them here — back to my original point, I don’t really weigh myself. I don’t put myself through that.”
► Q. Did you realistically believe you would make it to the NFL as a player, and if so, how long did you hold on to that dream?
► A. “Obviously, I come from a football family. My dad (Melvin Holmes) played in the NFL, my uncle (former Lions defensive back Luther Bradley) played in the NFL. I’ve got a first cousin, Alex Barron, that was a first-round pick (in 2005, by the Rams). That’s always been around, all the time, but I will say when I got to college and really started seeing like, as much as I was into scouting and loved football, man, I started off as a defensive end and kind of grew into a defensive tackle, somewhat. So I kind of knew, barely 6-2, close to it. I didn’t know I was a hair under 6-2 until I got measured by the BLESTO NFL scouts. That whole thing, and I wasn’t running a 4.5 40, I don’t have 20 sacks.
“I remember going to my defensive line coach Terrell Williams, who coaches defensive line for the Titans now. That was his first D-line position and I kept telling him, ‘I just want to try out.’ He was like, ‘All right, Brad,’ but he knew.
“My dad used to always tell me, and I thought he would say something different, but he was like, ‘Brad, man, I actually feel better that you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re taking the path that you’re doing.’ I thought he’d be, not disappointed, but when I started embarking on this career in personnel, he kept saying, ‘I’m so happy you’re doing that and not playing.’ I didn’t really have a choice.”
► Q. You have a degree in journalism and you got your start in public relations. Has that prepared you, in any way, for this job?
► A. “Absolutely. My mom told me, advised me wisely, to change my major. It came naturally and she broke it all down. She was like, ‘Brad, all your testing scores, your reading, writing and verbal skills have always been better than your math stuff.’
“I always had a passion to write. I loved writing. Well, when I got into scouting, I thought it was perfect because I was able to merge my passion for football and my passion for writing. When I first had an interview with Charley Armey, our GM at the time, I was like, I don’t have any scouting reports, so I showed him all my writing samples that I did for the game day magazine, school website and all that stuff. I was like, ‘Look, I’m a good writer, but I love football. I can write a scouting report.’ I don’t know if that’s what sold him or anything, but it’s been very natural.
“Now, it’s gotten a step further. I didn’t think about it at the time, but now it’s understanding the media better. All those media days on Wednesdays, helping out the media and doing all that stuff, I understand what their job is and they have a tough job. You’ve got a tough job. It’s not easy, but I’ve got a lot of appreciation for what you guys do. It’s definitely helped shape a bit of my career.”
► Q. One of the things you picked up from Les Snead was identifying a person’s superpower. So I want to close out by saying a few names and you telling me their superpower. Let’s start with Jared Goff.
► A. “Goff’s super power? Anticipation.”
► Q. Michael Brockers?
► A. “Leadership.”
► Q. Frank Ragnow?
► A. “Toughness.”
► Q. No, sorry, the correct answer we were looking for was bench press.
► A. “Actually, you know what, I would just say intangibles, period. The guy, I don’t want to say a talent, because yes, he’s strong, he’s athletic. A center that big shouldn’t be able to move like that. But his intangibles, I love the way he plays the game. He just does things the right way.”
► Q. Honestly, your first answer was probably right. The guy played a game with a fractured throat.
► A. “You could say toughness, but there’s a reason he’s a foundational piece of what we’re going to be doing.”
► Q. Ray Agnew?
► A. “Human being. Special. He is man of faith, man of integrity, energetic, very collaborative. He’s a great family man. He’s been a mentor. I don’t know if he’s known that all the time, but I’ve told him.”
► Q. Yourself?
► A. “I might have to plead the fifth on that one. I think I do have many talents that I think I excel it, but I would say it feels weird to talk about myself.”
► Q. You can pass.
► A. “I can pass? Great.”